I titled this post, 'Driving Through Scotland', because that is exactly what we did for one day. My time spent in Scotland wasn't very long, and to see as much as we (my parents and I) could in the free day we had in Glasgow, we decided to hop on a bus. We drove up to Inverness, made a u-turn, and drove back. I definitely did not see enough and my time off the bus was very little, so one of my goals this year is to head back over to Great Britain and spend a good amount of time travelling Scotland. This goal has had me thinking about what I did manage to see, and I wanted to share some of that beauty with you!
We started the day off in Glasgow, in the rain. And it was still so beautiful. Cold, but beautiful. We had just come from a very hot Rome the week before and were not prepared for the cold (even our Glasgow area friends were telling us it was unseasonably chilly).
Three Sisters of Glen Coe: Gearr Aonach (Short Ridge), Aonach Dubh (Black Ridge), and Beinn Fhada (Long Hill)
I don't know what this area is called (if you do, please let me know in the comments), but I fell in love with it! I love the little white house in the middle of nowhere, the sheep grazing in the grass, and the stunning mountains in the background. If I could live here for a few months with my books, wood for the fire, food, and... well if we're going to dream, a sexy man (preferably one who know what to do with sheep since I have absolutely no idea how to care for them), I would be very, very happy.
I was sick during this trip because, that's my life. So while everyone else from the bus hopped on a boat to float out into the middle of the lake, in the cold, and the rain, to look for Nessie, my parents and I went inside the local watering hole and drank Scotch. I think we had a better chance of spotting Nessie at this point. We never got drunk, we had shortbread to soak up the alcohol.
What are your favorite spots I should visit in Scotland and England? Leave your thoughts in the comments. The more places I want to see, the harder I'll work to make it happen! Cross you fingers that I'll make it over this year!
I absolutely love Montreal! I was born and raised in this wonderful city and moved back to attend university after my parents moved my family down to Texas when I was 13. The winters can be tough, and I definitely have some issues with the city (never ending construction, language police, etc..), but it is my home. I have family and some of my closest friends living there, it is home to my hockey team (Montreal Canadiens #GoHabsGo haha), has some interesting yet super tasty foods, and it is both historical and modern (many who visit call it a modern European city). Montreal is absolutely stunning during the fall months when the leaves on the trees turn into every shade of red, orange, and yellow. It is beautiful when fresh snow covers everything and as you step out into the silence you hear nothing but the soft crunch of snow under your feet. It brings such happiness when the sun has finally melted the snow away and the flowers begin to bloom. Contrary to popular belief, it does get hot during the summer months allowing the cities residents and visitors to ride their bikes through the streets, go hiking around Mount Royal, kayak through the Lachine Canal, or attend one of the many festivals (Just for Laughs, Jazz Fest, Osheaga...).
For this post, I'll be concentrating on the things my family most like to dig into in Montreal that you really don't find elsewhere. We make special stops, extra shopping trips, and late night runs for some of these goodies. If you'll be stopping by the city, be sure to try some of these out!
Some of you may have never heard about Montreal bagels before, and that's ok. Now you'll just have to make your way up to Montreal and try them for yourself. Most want to compare bagels to those in New York (while no others are comparable) but they really are very different and there really is no point. Let me just say, every person that has tried a Montreal bagel, has truly fallen in love (and have asked that we return from our trips with bags for them... literally.. dozens of bagels). Anthony Bourdain explains the Montreal bagel here. My family has always gone to Fairmount Bagel (open 24/7) and I remember coming home from my grandparents late some nights and stopping off while my dad went in to grab bags of fresh-out-of-the-oven bagels to bring home. I grew up eating them with Kraft singles and later when my taste evolved, I began eating them with Brie, or some cream cheese (my parents love them with plain cream cheese, smoked salmon, and capers). These are definitely part of a 'cheat meal' in our home and they are so worth it! Best thing about them? You can stick them in your freezer until you're ready to eat them! Worst part? There is almost always a line. Between my brother and my parents, at least 12 dozen bagels were brought back home to Texas this trip.
Poutine is exactly as it appears in the pictures. Fries covered in cheese curds and brown gravy and it is sooooo good. You can't make this with any sort of fries and I haven't found any in the states that would work well. The cheese curds are best fresh and squeaky (when you eat them fresh you'll know what I'm talking about), and the gravy best when thick (insert 'that's what she said' joke here). I don't think I've ever had a bad poutine, but you can definitely find the best locations if you want to try this dish out. I'd recommend: Decarie Hot Dog, La Roulotte (where we went, pictured below), La Banquise, Poutine Centrale, Green Stop.
There are a lot of chocolate bars, candies, etc., that don't make it south of the border. A few will find their way into some specialty stores every now and then, but it is rare. Smarties in the States are what Rockets are in Canada (the mini powdered pucks). Clearly the States are missing out on Canada's Smarties!!! Another Canadian favorite is the Aero bar. It is filled with air bubbles and it just so light, fluffy, and wonderfully tasty. If you've never tried Aero before, and you find a bar, pick it up. Any chocolate lover will not be disappointed. Kinder Surprise in another goodie for the kids that is actually illegal in the USA (something about a choking hazard, I think). Inside the chocolate egg is a plastic container that holds the pieces to build your own little toy. I have never known anyone to choke on these pieces, but the US might just be trying to avoid a lawsuit later on (that's a thing stateside!).
Smoked Meat Sandwich
Smoked meat is found all over Canada now, but the best place to go eat it is at Schwartz's (some opinions may differ, this is mine). This little deli has been around since the 30's and has used the same recipe since. Smoked meat is not the same as pastrami found in the US. It is a different cut of meat, and (to me) there is no comparison when it comes to texture and taste. The meat at Schwartz's is marinated for 10 days with a secret recipe and is smoked daily. Throw it on some fresh rye bread with some mustard and I am a very happy girl!
This might look like the strangest thing I could post since many Canadians don't know these don't exist beyond the border and Americans think Hot Pockets are the same thing... So much noooooo.
Pizza Pockets are like pizza topping filled deliciousness that burn your mouth when you bite into them. I know, that doesn't sound appetizing, but you need to know how to eat one correctly (one bite, just enough so you get through the crust and then set your pocket down to let the steam escape). McCain (a Canadian company) doesn't send their products South of the border so now living in Texas, we miss out. McCain recently changed the look of the pocket, but when you are without pockets altogether, the change doesn't matter. They are full of real, all natural ingredients (aka, nothing chemical) and are baked. So basically, they are super healthy ;)
I have to get these in because I've mentioned them before on this site (here). I didn't even eat or grab any to take home this trip (because I really don't eat chips), but I find I miss them from time to time. Better to not have them in the pantry so I can't 'accidently' eat the entire bag. Like I said in the previous article about the Ketchup Dip, these chips don't really taste like ketchup. I think they taste better than how ketchup tastes.. They are somehow tangy, sweet, and salty all at the same time. If someone else can describe them better than I am, please do in the comments!!
There are so many other things to try while in Montreal. Beavertails are a yummy treat while walking around the Old Port. It is basically fried dough (similar to a doughnut) in the shape of a beaver's tail, served hot, with toppings like cinnamon and sugar, apple and cinnamon, or hazelnut spread and bananas. Depending on the time of year, you can head over to a Sugar Shack or Cabane a Sucre (maple syrup, mmmmm). Producing roughly 75% of the world's maple syrup, Quebec is the place to go try it straight from the source. Be sure to check out Bouvrette, Erabliere Charbonneau, Labranche, or Au Pied de Cochon. Be sure to plan ahead, check out menus, call ahead to make reservations, etc..ablièreÉrablière
I’ve been missing New York City lately and since I can’t make a trip over there anytime soon, I wanted to get a few of my favorite stops down here in case anyone else is lucky enough to be headed over. When I first moved to Brooklyn, I spent my first few months getting settled, looking for a job, and best part of all, walking the city. This won’t be first time you hear this, but NYC has some of the best restaurants in the world. And I love food. It just works.
These are some of the places I try to stop by every time I visit the city.
271 Bleecker St
I really cannot have a list of places to go and things to do in NYC without mentioning a pizza place. One of my very good friends introduced me to this hole in the wall pizzeria and I am so thankful. Every time I have sat down to eat in Kesté, I have been served by someone Italian (which just adds to the atmosphere of the place) and I always leave feeling full and oh so satisfied. The pizza is made in a wood-burning oven in the back corner of the rectangular space. You will probably end up waiting in a line and sitting very close to those next to you, but trust me when I say, it is so worth it. The trick is to check their hours online, and make sure you are in line when the doors open. I don’t know how many times I have been prepared, been standing at the door first, and when the doors finally opened, there was a line of 10-20 people behind me (there is not a lot of seating). If you are lucky enough to live in the area, and don’t mind gaining a few extra pounds, they do deliver (or if you are visiting, have the pizza delivered to your hotel and go have a picnic in one of the many city parks). I dream of this pizza, so if you go, feel free to send me some.
864 Madison Ave or 398 W Broadway
Ladurée opened AFTER I moved out of Brooklyn (how rude) but I have definitely stopped off at these locations each time I have visited the city. I fell in love with Ladurée when I was living in Paris, but not to worry, you’ll get the same yumminess at every location. There are two very different locations in NYC. The Madison location is a small storefront where you walk in, order from the counter, and walk out. It is really close to Central Park, and definitely walking distance from the Met if you want to walk over, enjoy your macarons, and people watch from the steps. The Soho location is bigger with a beautiful seating area to enjoy items off their menu. You can definitely walk into that location, order, and walk out as well. But if you have the time to be seated, order some decadent pastries, hot chocolate (to die for!), and enjoy what will be a truly delicious and possibly instagrammed treat. Want to send someone a yummy and incredible gift? The macarons from here are the best and (in my opinion) you’ll be voted the best gift giver.
The Met(ropolitan Museum of Art)
1000 5th Ave
The Met is one of my favorite museums in the world and I found myself visiting on my own whenever I had a free day in the city. I tend to spend the most time walking through the Egyptian, Medieval, Armor, and Roman collections, but I really believe there is something for everyone to see. You can purchase tickets in packages almost everywhere in the city, however, if you go to the ticket counter in the museum, there is no set ticket price (so if you are really broke, you could technically get in free). There have been some days when I could only afford $5 and some days when I could afford $20, so give what you can. Pay attention to special exhibits when you plan your trip. Try to grab a pretzel and sit on the steps before you leave.
162 8th Ave & 60 University Place
Amorino has the best gelato outside of Italy (I don’t say that lightly). This was one of my favorite dessert stops in Paris and I am so happy they opened in NYC. There really are quite a few wonderful gelato spots in the city, but I carry a torch for Amorino (sentimental reasons). They have so many incredible flavours, as well as dairy free options including: Walnut-Fig, Stracciatella, Tiramisu, Dulce de Leche, Lime Basil, Hazelnut, and so many more (flavours may vary depending on time of year). I often get my order in a cup, but if you love a cone, they usually create a flower atop the cone for you and each petal can be a different flavour if you wish. Another Instagram worthy food stop.
Corner of 14th Street & Union Square West
Union Square was a spot I came to at least once a week. Union Square is a major Subway stop and is a central location surrounded by the Flatiron District, Chelsea, Greenwich Village, and Gramercy Park. Whether you need to grab groceries, a book, a quick lunch, gelato (Amorino is a few blocks away), or want to check out the street vendors, this is a perfect place to ride the subway to (or walk to) before venturing outwards. Depending on the day, you can also walk through the fantastic Farmer’s Market in the square.
Between 5th & 6th Ave and 40th & 42nd St
I love to grab coffee at a Starbucks (you can’t miss them) and walk around Bryant Park. It is a fantastic place to have a seat and read, do some extra work that might only include a laptop or tablet, meet up with a friend, or rest and enjoy the shade while watching the speedy city move around you. My favorite time of year is when kiosks fill the park for the Winter Village, at which time, a hot cup of coffee or any other holiday beverage from Starbucks really warms you (body and spirit).
Winter Village at Bryant Park
Between 5th & 6th Ave and 40th & 42nd St
Before the Holidays begin, the Winter Village opens (this year, it will open October 29th). Whether you want to shop or not, it is a wonderful experience to just walk through the kiosks. With electricity running through them, you can usually walk into each kiosk to check out the art, jewelry, bath products, local foods, apparel, and so much more from the hundreds of vendors. This is a great area to get some Holiday shopping done with some special finds you won’t see elsewhere. You can also spend time at the skating rink that stays open until March.
The New York Public Library
5th Ave & 42nd St
The library sits right next to Bryant Park, so you don’t have to walk very far to check it out. It is a beautiful historic building and the second largest library in the United States. I am in awe every time I walk into the library that holds over 53 million books and have walked around it multiple times just taking in how lovely it is. Feel free to take a little walk through, check out some books, and be sure to stop into the Main Rose Reading Room.
800 7th Ave
This restaurant is one that my parents would stop to have dinner at every time they stayed in the city for work (which usually was once a month). It has yummy, uncomplicated, feel good, Irish Pub fare. It has become a regular stop for us every time we visit as it is pretty close to Times Square, and a few blocks from the bar we stop off at for after dinner drinks. For years, I have ordered the Irish Beef Stew or the Lobster Ravioli every single time I have eaten here, but rest assured, everything tastes good (I taste the different meals around the table). After filling up on the great food, we usually walk a few blocks to the Michelangelo Hotel.
The Michelangelo Hotel Bar
152 West 51st St
When you walk into this hotel, right off the lobby is a small bar area. If you can get a seat at the bar itself, I suggest you do so as a cast of characters usually drop in (VP’s of major fashion houses, pornographers, NYC Chief of Police…). My favorite person at this bar is one of the bartender’s, who also happens to be my mum’s cousin, Bernie: incredibly funny, sarcastic, and makes the best version of any drink you order. The space usually fills up when the musicals empty out at night, and while there are plenty of bars around the city, I can’t imagine going to any other.
I have a very long list of places I want to visit, things I want to do, places I want to see. Some of the hotels I’ve listed below look so magical they could be from a dream. A Ferngully, Fairy, Hobbit-ish, Royal, Medieval dream. It may be quite some time before I have the opportunity to visit these wistful locations, but if you want to treat your inner fairy princess, check out these beautiful hotels for your next vacation.
The Montaña Mágica Lodge or Magic Mountain Hotel
How beautiful is this place?! This picturesque hotel is built in the shape of a volcano with water spouting from the top feeding the ferns, moss, and plant-life as the water makes its way down. Everything used to create this magical space is environmentally friendly and local artisans were brought in to construct the beautiful interiors. The hotel was inspired by myths that spirits protected a magical mountain in the forest, and once you made the climb to the top of the mountain, your dreams would come true.
It is apparently a bit of a trek through the rainforest to get out here, but I have no doubts that the trek itself would be incredible.
Thorngrove Manor Hotel
If the Fairy Godmothers from Sleeping Beauty had a home, this would be it. Originally built as part of a vineyard, this romantic hotel is located in the oldest wine producing regions of Australia. Did you catch that? Wine… Lots of wine. Check out their website for more pictures of this gorgeous hotel.
Located in West Sussex, Amberley Castle was converted into a hotel in 1989. Some of its famous visitors include King Henry VIII in 1526, when he came to discuss his future divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and Queen Elizabeth II in 1945. The hotel sits on about 12 acres with gorgeous gardens, a professional golf course, and medieval stonework. If ever you want to feel like Natalie Dormer’s version of Anne Boleyn (from The Tudors), a walk through this hotel might do the trick.
I couldn’t have a piece about magical places and not include Cinderella’s Castle. Can you stay here? Not really. Few people manage to win a night’s stay, and others are celebrities that have probably managed to make Disney A LOT of money. Hopefully one day, I manage to make Disney a lot of money so I can pretend to be a Disney princess for one night (come on, you would too). I would probably walk away from the suite with hundreds of pictures. This is Disney, so the details are most definitely impeccable.
It didn’t take me any time at all to know that the next travel post was going to be about the Scottish Highlands (since that’s where I’d go tomorrow if I could). But after seeing some friends post about their trip to Rome last week, I remembered, ‘I was there too!’ I will definitely be revisiting Scotland on this page again, but for now, I wanted to take you along for a little chunk of my Italian Adventure.
My parents had already been working in Rome for a week when I decided to join their trip, so most of my time running around was spent alone, which was actually fantastic! I usually started my day around 8 am when my parents headed off to work and walked close to 10 miles each day (thank you, Tieks). I was incredibly sick during this trip, (more on that later) so I ran around as much as I could until late afternoon when I would try to nap and recharge, then was up again for dinner and some late night sightseeing.
I am obsessed with history so being in a city like Rome was an absolute dream. My first day, I found a map and marked down all the locations I HAD to see during the week. I planned out a bit of a path to follow so I could walk a few of the sites each day and have plenty of time to find treasures along the way. I like to stay off the beaten path and this is a place where that rewards you greatly.
The places I planned to see my first day were the Castel Sant’Angelo, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and the Altare della Patria (or Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II).
The start of my day, I passed by the Vatican on the way to Castel Sant Angelo. Located on the right bank of the Tiber River, the castle was originally commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian between 134 and 139 AD as a mausoleum for himself and his family. If you’re like me, (have an active imagination and aren’t the biggest fan of closed spaces) steer clear of the interior corridor, pathway, spiral walkway of terror. At one point while walking downwards expecting to see the end, all I saw in both directions was stone and brick. Of course this is when my brain started screaming, ‘what if this building collapsed at this very moment?’ (I told you, active imagination). After a moment of calm breathing, I took a quick picture and walked (slow run) my way back, spending the rest of my time checking out the upper levels.
On my way to my next stop, I passed by the Palazzo di Giustizia, the highest court of appeals in Italy. You can’t miss it. The build started in 1888, and restorations of the foundation unearthed several archaeological finds in 1970.
Piazza Navona was once a competition arena and today is a space for vendors to display paintings and other works of art for sale. More than that, in every direction is beautiful architecture, sculptures, and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. When I arrived wanting pictures, the fountains in the space were being cleaned so I circled back on another day with my mum and dad and left with some gorgeous artwork.
I don’t remember too much from my first trip to Rome when I was younger, but what always stuck out in my mind was the Pantheon. Even when I had no idea what this building was, I was in complete awe. Commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (years after Marc Antony and Julius Ceasar died), the Roman Temple is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome almost two thousand years after it was built.
The Altare della Patria is a National Monument built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. Like many other buildings in the city of Rome, it is enormous and made with incredible detail.
Rome is such a phenomenal city in so many ways, and this was all seen in only one day. You can be minding your own business and find yourself standing before an archaeological dig of ancient ruins. Stay tuned for my time in the Vatican Museum and my walk through the Palatine.
If ever you have the chance to visit this gorgeous place, you will not regret it. Rosslyn Chapel is full of incredible history and the detail in the stonework is unbelievable.
Some of my favorite spots…
Sitting at the front of the Chapel are two pillars. According to a legend dating back to the 18th century, the master mason in charge of the stonework in the chapel had completed work on the first pillar and decided to travel in the hopes of finding inspiration for the second. While he was gone, his apprentice had a dream about the pillar and completed it on his own before his master returned. Upon his return, the master mason flew into a fit of rage and hit his apprentice in the head with a mallet, killing him. As punishment for his crime, the master’s face was carved into stone so he could forever gaze upon what is now known as the ‘Apprentice Pillar’.
Forte est vinum fortiori est rex fortiores sunt mulieres super omnia vincit veritas. Wine is strong, a king is stronger, women are stronger still, but truth conquers all.
The Seven Virtues: Helping the Needy, Clothing the Naked, Looking After the Sick, Visiting Prisoners, Charity is transposed with the deadly sin of Greed (it is unknown if the two were deliberately switched as a reminder of the potential for good within evil, and evil within good), Feeding the Hungry & Burying the Dead
The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Gluttony, Greed is transposed with the Virtue of Charity, Anger, Envy, Sloth, Lust
The fallen angel, Lucifer, is seen hanging upside down and bound with rope.
Surrounding one of the windows are carvings of ‘maize’ or Indian Corn. The presence of this plant carving in the Chapel raises many questions. Not only is it an exotic plant, it originates from North America, a country traditionally thought to have been discovered by Columbus in 1492, almost 50 years after Rosslyn Chapel was built.
I wanted to start off this section of the blog with a piece about one of my favorite cities I visited a year ago. My parents were scheduled to work in Italy and Scotland for a few weeks and I could not let them go on such an amazing trip without me. Although we only stayed in Scotland for a few days, it was an unforgettable trip that left me wanting more.
We stayed at the beautiful Caledonian Hotel (opened in 1903) in Edinburgh, which had the most incredible view of Edinburgh Castle from our window. Not ones to waste any time, we dropped off our bags and headed off to see the castle before they closed down for the night.
There is so much history within the walls of this castle as well as the rock it sits upon that absolutely fascinate my inner nerd. One of the oldest buildings within the castle walls and in all of Edinburgh is St. Margaret’s Chapel. Dating back to the 12th century, it was first used as a private chapel for the royal family and since then, has been used to store gunpowder and hold weddings. The most unexpected sight, was the Dog Cemetery (yes, you read that right) that has been in use since Queen Victoria’s reign, dedicated to the dogs belonging to officers and regimental mascots.
The next morning, we hopped on a city bus for most stunning 30 minute ride to Rosslyn Chapel where again, my inner nerd was screaming and jumping for joy (there is really so much to say that I will cover it in another post). If the name is familiar, you may have caught a brief glimpse of it in The Da Vinci Code (the book also mentioned the American University of Paris, where I studied during my freshman year).
After our journey back to Edinburgh, we spent the rest of the day walking through the city, tasting Scotch, eating one of many steak and ale pies, listening to bagpipers, drinking Hot Toddy’s (drink this when sick!), and taking a ridiculous amount of pictures.
Tea time at Peacock Alley back at the hotel was meant to be a relaxing time for us to munch on a few goodies while enjoying a cup of hot tea after running around in the cold and rain all day. We underestimated the amount of goodies that would accompany our tea. And when you are sick and can’t breathe properly, tossing too many of these goodies in your mouth at once while joking around with your dad isn’t the smartest idea. I did manage to make my dad laugh so hard he cried (my mum had never even witnessed this before) which made my minor choke fest absolutely worth it.
On our last day in the city, we spent a few hours doing nothing but shopping for tartans and visiting one of the factories. I was so in love with every pattern, cloak, and scarf and would have taken it all with me if I could have. Sadly, I currently live in Texas where it really doesn’t get cold. For once, I wanted to be back in Canada.
I did not want to leave our hotel for a few reasons: the view, the food, and the concierge. Think of the absolute sweetest man you’ve ever met and put him in tartan pants. I liked this man so much I had to get a quick picture with him on our way out. When I asked my dad to wait, that my nose itched, he took the picture anyway. So this moment is the one I have to remember now. Thanks for the laughs, dad.
Where did we go to eat in Edinburgh? Pubs, of course. Drink of choice? Scotch! Lots and lots of scotch.